December 8, 2023

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The City University of New York, a sprawling public system of 25 colleges, has been at the forefront of many student success initiatives. It prohibited withholding of transcripts in 2022 and improved transfer processes—the number of students moving between one of its two-year campuses, Hostos Community College, to one of its senior institutions, Lehman College, they increased by 14% over a two-year period..

Now, CUNY and longtime partner Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit educational research organization, have developed CUNY Transfer Explorer. The database allows prospective and current transfer students to find out if and how their credits will count toward a degree at one of the system’s campuses.

The program, colloquially known as TREX, recently received $4.4 million in new grants make improvements, some of which have already been launched. Funding will also be used to develop a version of TREX for use outside the CUNY system.

Pooja Patel, Principal Analyst on the Ithaka S+R Educational Transformation team, joined Higher Ed Dive to discuss adapting systems for current college students and the importance of transparency in the transfer process.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

HIGHER ED DIVE: What kind of feedback has Transfer Explorer received since its initial launch?

Headshot of Indian woman with long hair and thick glasses.

Pooja Patel, Senior Analyst at Ithaka S+R

Permission granted by Ithaka S+R

POOJA PATEL: It was very positive. The project was really about helping students get the information they need to transfer successfully. To summarize, an estimated 43% of college credits are lost in the transfer process. This is an incredible waste of time and money not only for students but also for taxpayers.

CUNY has about 10,000 vertical transfer students entering their system. When you count all the different types of transfer students, that’s almost 20,000 students. Just over 85,000 people have visited the site since its launch.

Why is it important for colleges and systems to keep their transfer systems up to date?

The college path is no longer so traditional. Not all students go to college right out of high school. And along the way, they could earn all sorts of credits, such as AP exams, military credit, certificates, and so on.

But when they reach college, they find that the system isn’t really built for them. They struggle to navigate college websites or talk to advisors to find out how their courses will transfer to the college of their choice.

What kinds of updates have you made to the program with the new grant round?

In January, we released three new features and a redesigned homepage. Now CUNY students—and everyone else, since CUNY TREX is publicly available—can see how a course taken anywhere will transfer to a CUNY college. It’s not just CUNY on CUNY anymore.

In addition to courses, you can see how your exams, such as AP or CLEP, will fare.

CUNY students also have a login option that allows them to get a view of their own transcripts and actively track courses they have taken or are currently taking. All the improvements that have been implemented are related to personalization.

What are the next steps for CUNY TREX?

Some of the new funding will be used to research what we call “failure credits” and quantitative student metrics. We will also be doing more qualitative evaluation of the use and implementation of Transfer Explorer.

Ithaka S+R has announced plans to develop a TREX version for wider use. Where does this process currently stand?

We are in the very early stages of mapping out what a universal version of TREX will look like and who our partner institutions will be. We are doing our own due diligence, but if any institution is interested, they should talk to us.

The goal is to develop a product that takes the core features of CUNY TREX and takes course equivalency information and program requirements from most senior software systems. We would scale up from there.

What can colleges outside of CUNY—especially those that likely won’t work directly with Ithaca—learn from this project?

Colleges can help their students transfer by providing information more clearly and in a simpler format. It’s not that most transmission information is inaccurate, it’s just that inaccessible. This is one of the key problems that Transfer Explorer could potentially solve.

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